how faint a whisper

glimpses of God in a heaven-crammed earth

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Lenten waiting


I have a worn index card in the front of my Bible with the words “wait on the Lord” on the front, followed by a list of verses. At some point a few years ago I decided, in the midst of the slow discovery of reading, to start writing down every time I came across these words or concept in Scripture. I don’t know now why I needed the reminder in that season, and I stopped capturing them long before completion, but not before preserving this small remembrance that Scripture calls us, repeatedly, to wait.

In the church year we usually focus on Advent as the waiting season, and of course it is: a waiting for the promise, the birth, the arrival. But this year I have been struck by the remembrance that Lent, also, is about waiting. Advent, and then Christmas as its culmination, is a joyful and expectant waiting, in a sense waiting for the “already.” Then we journey through the few glorious months of Epiphany, reminding each other again and again of how God is present with us, and then we come again to Lent. Lent, slipping in to remind us of the other reality in which we dwell, this waiting of the “not yet,” the waiting of the brokenness for which Christ went to the cross, a brokenness and need that still defines our world and our lives, and all too painfully so.

Waiting, however, is not sedentary. And it always keeps in sight the object. I think this is why I have come to love using the word longing to capture this reality of our existence. It is the longing that the psalmist cries out with in Psalm 130:

my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning –
yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

In the insulation of our present age the full understanding of these words can be lost. I have never been a watchman, striving to remain alert for the safety of the city. But in a different way I have glimpsed what it is like to wait for the morning. It is sitting in the utter darkness of the wilderness, completely dependent on a series of events I have no control over for the bringing of light, warmth, and the freedom to move forward into the day. It is feeling that I can hardly focus, glancing up every five seconds to scan the horizon with desperation for the slightest first signs of pink. It is feeling, in the depth of the morning cold, that even though reason tells me the sun has risen every day of my life, for a split second I am afraid it never will and if so, I will not make it. So I watch for the morning; long for it with the knowledge that in some very real way, my life depends on it. So the writer of Psalm 130 weaves these words together, this watching and waiting and hoping and redemption, because they can only exist together. Because waiting is about the action of hope looking to the promise of redemption.

But waiting is also about the realities of life in a world of brokenness, limitation, and need. Going forward to receive the ashes at an Ash Wednesday service, one of the traditional statements proclaimed over us is to remember that from dust you came and to dust you shall return. Or, as Psalm 103 says it, “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” Its place remembers it no more. To wait is to accept this place non-remembrance. To name that I am not the meaning of my own life, that God’s freedom has an eternal scope and is not so narrowly defined as to mean my pursuit of self-defined happiness and fulfillment. It is to choose, as Wendell Berry says, to “plant sequoias. Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant; that you will not live to harvest.” It is to say that the limitations of our creatureliness are okay, in fact they are good. Our sin has always been to want to be more than what we are, and so we need Lent. We need to be reminded of our mortality.

Lent is a remembrance of longing. It is choosing to engage in practice what we know to be true in some deep recess: that we are a waiting people. That discipleship is primarily about waiting. Growing, yes, but anyone who has had a garden knows that growth involves a lot of tending, and a lot of waiting. And the practices of tending must come before the promise of fruit.

As one of those Lenten practices then, traditionally, we give things up. Why? To identify with Christ in the wilderness, yes. But also, to practice longing. To embody it. To feel it at some (let’s be honest) relatively easy place of our being, in order to remember that this is in fact the practice of a truth so deep that even touching its edges is greatly tender, and we feel it. And the feeling matters. It touches us at a different place than the thinking alone. And we need this reminder. Not morbidly, but because the recognition of brokenness is actually the first seed of hope.

The reality of our lives on this earth means that our hope must be planted and grow in broken soil, and practices of longing are like the tiller that prepares it. Those who need nothing do not need to wait. Those who are fulfilled do not need to hope. Only sinners need redemption.

And I believe to long in the way the Lord has designed us to is anything but ethereal, mystic, and theoretical. Brokenness drives us to isolation, to hiding behind illusion to cover our vulnerability. If we do not exist at a level of relationship with others where we see and are seen in our insufficiency; where we demonstrate publicly in our failure and our falls how we are still waiting for redemption; we are not driven to lean into the hope of our longing. We do not have to incarnate the love of God and remind each other of truth, which is the great gift of relationship. If we do not feel our lack, we cannot long for the fullness of Christ and we cannot recognize its shadows here and among us.

So my prayer this Lent, for myself and for you, is that in all the tenderness it entails, we will wait. Wait together. Need each other. Embody longing. Speak the truth of freedom. Refuse illusion. Practice.

Remember our need in order to plant seeds of hope.


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Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is,
My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?
Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34

Oh this ineffable moment of Christ’s despair on which hangs the lifetimes of our hope! In the most broken of circumstances, the most desperate of cries, we have never known a moment over which God’s hand did not reign, over which His face was not turned to this world, etched with both patience and anger. We have never known a moment where the grace of redemption did not frame the story. We have perhaps uttered this cry, but we have never actually known it. And not only that but Christ, from eternity past, had never known a moment where He and the Father did not dwell in perfect intimacy and oneness. It is a union we think and study and talk a lot about, but we do not really know, not in the experiential definition of knowing. This moment of separation, then, is a rending which we are dependent on, but cannot fathom the terrifying darkness of. When the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Christ has in every way suffered as we do, this is yet another miraculous indication of that truth: Christ knows the full weight of human loneliness and abandonment, beyond even what we will ever know, facing the utter silence of God.

This darkest moment of all history, however, is not without hope. It’s absolutely woven through with it! Jesus was a Jew: He knew what He was quoting with these words. Even if the full psalm did not flow from his lips in the impossible exhaustion of that moment, Christ was proclaiming to Himself (and to us, for all eternity) truth, at the very moment it was most impossible to believe. He knew that it only takes David two verses before he exclaims what must be the second breath of all anguish: yet You, God, are holy. You are worthy to be trusted. You delight in me, and that is not contingent, as the voice of the mockers would try to proclaim, on delivery from the cross. So neither will my trust be contingent on that rescue. Neither will my unswerving proclamation of truth be moved by circumstances which seem opposed to it. Yet, the psalmist wrote. Not only “you are holy,” but YET you are. Yet, but, despite, in the midst of, however, nevertheless. The holiness of God is not always plainly evident in our circumstances, and the believing feel of it does not always come, no matter how we cry by day and by night. It is simply true, and it is enthroned in our praises. It is lifted high by remembrance, proclaimed by faith. And for even this, we have the example of Christ.

We do not discipline ourselves to learn truth to no end.
We do not preach truth to ourselves everyday as an empty rhythm.
We immerse ourselves in truth so that in the very moments our human hearts cannot believe it, when the deliverance has not come, when the dream is dying, when the abandonment feels absolute, the truth of who God is is the unconscious thought to our minds, the practiced word to our tongues. And we know it; somewhere deeper even than feeling, we know; by remembrance and by discipline and by experience. So the question of forsakenness is followed by the truth of holiness, and the response of trust.

The other gift of these words of Christ, however, is that they show us that even for One who knew all this perfectly, who proclaimed it perfectly, the knowing did not negate the ache, the cry, the truth of that feeling. God is holy, yes, but it also feels like we have been forsaken. The unfathomable piece of it all is that this feeling of God’s abandonment, which is still to us only a perception, even in our very darkest moments, to Christ was a reality only He could bear. Only He could bear it for us then, only He can bear it for us now. He was born to bear it for us, to save us then and to intercede for us now. Without the death of Christ, our darkest moments really are absolutely dark, precisely because God is holy. But holiness becomes a hope through the transforming faith and unmeasurable pain of the only One who could ever hold the knowledge of truth through actual forsakenness. By His wounds, we are healed.

These words of Christ have pierced me with pain, wonder and unspeakable thanks:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Precisely because even at that very moment, He was, is, and will always be – holy. And that is our only hope.

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the waiting dim of advent felt especially dark this year.
the valley of the shadow of death was oh too real – some gone. some going. all of us not as strong as we think we are.
the world, and its news, felt weary. relentless.
and its Babel sounds, Babel grasping, Babel pride…exhaustively deafening.

our aching watchman-for-the-morning eyes, straining in the dark for that first glimpse of that first ray, felt like they could not stay open one moment more.
that pregnant pause as the conductor raises his baton, then holds it, hovering in anticipation, felt unbearably long and impossibly silent.


“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy;
…You have broken the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor…
For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, and garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.
FOR unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government shall be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end…
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

The baton drops. The triumphant concerto rushes through the room. The glowing orb of sun breaks the horizon line like the tension releasing last drop of water that pushes it all over the edge. God, Incarnate, floods the world with light.

There it is: hope.
the weary world rejoices.

The Word of the Lord. The Word, the Lord. Thanks be to God.

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a psalm

IMG_6628 smallA few weeks ago I sat on a concrete roof in the early Sunday morning Peruvian sun and turned to the psalms. The ten of us in that circle were halfway through a three week trip and my co-leader and I wanted to lead the students somewhere intentional, somewhere that would help them think through and articulate where they had been and where they were going. And so we turned to the psalms, rich in their realness, testimony, and tension. Focusing in on thanksgiving and supplication, I read out loud portion of psalm after psalm, one after another, letting the language and the themes roll over us and resonate deeply: testimonies of the character of the Lord and what He had done and pleas for Him to hear and act again, sometimes uttered in the same breath of the same verse.

We then challenged the students to write their own psalm, in their own particular mode of expression. Tell what the Lord has done, we encouraged them, both in your life as a whole, and how you have specifically seen Him this trip. And then ask Him for what you long to see Him do, both in our remaining days together and the years to come. We spread out across the rooftop and in rooms below, communing in shared silence for the next hour or so. Some students wrote in prose, as a letter or a prayer. Others drew an image, or wrote a song, and then later, we shared them, and it was a gift.

As I sat in my own little corner of the roof, I found myself once again in Psalm 84. For several years now, the Lord has been pressing those words deep into me, using them to challenge and strengthen and break and renew and re-orient, different lessons for different seasons. I had shared earlier in the trip the incredible imagery of the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem digging pits in the desert and waiting for the rain, to be sustained again for the next stage of their journey, and now once again the Lord was returning me to a new lesson of the desert. A new appreciation, perhaps. A new understanding of what contentment looks like with rain and without it, and the love which sustains it.

And suddenly that morning tied into months of learning and growing in the seamless way only the Lord can. And suddenly my thankfulness for the Lord’s faithful working had grown, as had my deep-set supplication for it to continue. So often the Lord’s most intimate gifts are not changes in any outward circumstance, but instead a righting of our understanding of His character within it. A looking to who He is and what He has done, for the courage to ask, and to wait, for what He has yet to do. How beautiful is that tension, and the dependence it requires.


O God, how bold it is to say,
You are my Father, even though you dwell in heaven,
You are my Husband, even when I am alone,
You are my Provider, even as I go without,
You are my Portion, even while I long,
You are Good, even when I cannot see.

Your love has never failed,
nor will it ever waiver,
nor can I ever fall from it,
nor does it ever lack.
And who I am is in that love,
It created me, it saved me, it encompasses me, it upholds me, it defines me.

I do not deserve the pools of blessing,
nor the desert of longing,
though I have had both in abundance,
and come to see
that I drink dry the strength of the rain of Your presence
not to carry me through the desert as quickly as possible
but to carry with me into the desert,
and know that sand and brush and unrelenting sun
still drip with the abundance of your presence.

There in the desert, I am loved for nothing I bring,
and love You for nothing You give.
I need nothing but Your grace,
I offer nothing but brokenness,
And long for nothing but to help other pilgrims
know the hope of rain.

Father, help me to remember: I have been given much.
And not only the pools of strength,
but the much of the desert:
the dependence it demands,
the self it blows away,
the silence that requires my stillness,
the beauty that requires my attentiveness,
the gifts that require my praise.

And so much is given, and much is required.
May I be obedient to dig,
in joy or in sorrow,
in fullness or in longing,
in strength or in weakness,
but always in grace,
that by faithfulness my life may display
how beautiful,
and sweet,
and satisfying,
is both the promise and the presence of Your rain.


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a candle of hope in a season of waiting


It was an interesting thing to flow straight from Thanksgiving into the first Sunday of advent this year. I know Thanksgiving as a holiday is a creation of our secular history, not the church, but I find its timing appropriate. Maybe I’ve never seen it as closely linked as this year, when the seasons practically overlapped. When, still full from turkey and giving thanks, all of a sudden we were at church and lighting the first advent candle. The candle of hope. It seems appropriate, in an intentional season of waiting, to begin with hope. And it seems appropriate, though I never thought of it before, to give thanks for it. To give thanks for the reminders of waiting.

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a reminder

It’s been silent here for a while. Not for lack of activity in life, I promise, but perhaps from a struggle to translate activity into word. Which is okay sometimes. The past few weeks have had a range of thoughts, emotions, and prayers – some high highs and some low lows. Some moments of feeling very sure and some moments of feeling very lost. That’s life to some extent, although I don’t believe we’re to be blown to extremes by every wind of change or emotion, and I don’t often experience quite this much gusting in such a short period of time. But we sure do have those times when, as the disciples, we cry out in the midst of the raging storm that Jesus, sleeping in the bow, couldn’t possibly care, or why would he be allowing this? Only to feel quite foolish and small indeed when Jesus stands up, rebukes our faith, and creates instant peace from reigning chaos. Which of course He knew lay in wait all along.

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